Although the phrase “hypnosis” often triggers images of stage magicians, waving pocket watches back in forth in order to con audience members into barking like dogs or clucking like chickens, there’s no arguing with the fact that the concept is taken seriously by plenty of sales people and business leaders. So to truly understand whether or not hypnotism has value as a persuasion technique, we need to first push past these mental stereotypes to uncover the true definition of “hypnosis” and how it really works.
“Traditional hypnosis”, as it’s referred to in NLP circles, involves the process of making suggestions to the subconscious mind. Typically, the process begins by helping targets achieve the right state of mind in order to be receptive to these commands, which may be done through relaxation techniques and focusing exercises (hence, the commonly used pocket watch stereotype referenced earlier). Once this trance-like state has been achieved, subjects may become more uninhibited or suggestible, causing them to be more receptive to new thoughts or requests.
However, if this all sounds “new agey”, be aware that there’s actually quite a bit of scientific research to back up the physiological changes that occur when subjects enter a hypnotic state (whether through the encouragement of others or through highly-engrossing activities like reading or meditating). Researchers have been studying the process of hypnosis for years, although only recently have technological advances allowed these scientists to understand what occurs within the brain during hypnosis.
According to these hypnosis researchers:
“In some studies, EEGs from subjects under hypnosis showed a boost in the lower frequency waves associated with dreaming and sleep, and a drop in the higher frequency waves associated with full wakefulness. Researchers have also studied patterns in the brain’s cerebral cortex that occur during hypnosis. In these studies, hypnotic subjects showed reduced activity in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex, while activity in the right hemisphere often increased.”
Based on the results of these researchers, whose data indicate changes in the areas of the brain associated with wakefulness, logical reasoning and inhibition, we can conclude that hypnosis is a very real phenomenon. But does this mean that the practice can be successfully used as an NLP technique designed to increase sales or promote other positive changes?
Obviously, you aren’t going to walk in to a potential client’s office, whip out a pocket watch and start swinging it until he’s signed on the dotted line. Not only would that be incredibly difficult to pull off, it’d be unethical to coerce a prospect into doing business while under hypnosis.
Instead, where hypnosis has value as an NLP technique is through a process known as “Ericksonian hypnosis.” The goal of Ericksonian hypnosis (named for its developer, Milton Erickson) isn’t to access the subconscious mind and manipulate it directly – a process that rarely works on those with highly critical, analytic minds. Instead, Ericksonian hypnosis attempts to embed stories and metaphors into the unconscious in order to implant ideas while bypassing logic and reason filters that would otherwise prevent traditional hypnosis from occurring.
Within the field of Ericksonian hypnosis, there are two particular techniques that can be useful from an NLP perspective – isomorphic metaphors and embedded commands.
Isomorphic metaphors are created by telling prospects a story that enables them to connect with the main character and identify with the lessons this character learns. Children, for example, are told the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” with the implicit understanding that a similar fate will befall them as did the poor boy in the story if they make the same mistakes. Because this story is relayed as an isomorphic metaphor, it’s able to penetrate the subconscious and ultimately be more effective than simply telling children not to lie.
Embedded commands are another powerful NLP technique that allows you to address the subconscious directly and implant the desire to perform a specific action. For example, if you told a sales prospect, “I know you’ll want to buy right away once I share these benefits with you,” his subconscious may pick up on the phrase, “buy right away”, implanting an unconscious desire to fulfill this request as soon as possible.
Although both of these techniques use elements of hypnosis to achieve their ends, they work on a far more sophisticated level than what most people envision when they hear the phrase, “hypnosis.” It is these techniques – not the “blunt force” battering of the subconscious mind with commands, as in traditional hypnosis – that have the best potential for use in the sales world.
In our next article, we’ll take a closer look at how specific elements of Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP (including both isomorphic metaphors and embedded commands) can be used to influence the sales process, leading to happier clients and more sales overall.